What Facebook wanted to know

I have been wanting to write a new post for a while but I’ve been struggling to come up with what to actually write about, so instead of musing it over or thinking too deeply I caved in and asked my Facebook page followers what they wanted me to write about.

I really didn’t have a lot of expectations about asking others to ask the questions, but there were some that have triggered other things I want to write about so the next few blog posts will be a direct result of some of the questions asked.

This post is like a warm up for them. I’ve become so reluctant to get something out there in the last few months. Having a blog post go accidentally viral just ended up freaking me out but it’s been way too long since I last wrote, so here goes.

Here’s what Facebook wanted to know.

 

Talk to me about what inspires you or talk to me about your creative space.

My creative space is currently a little desk in a corner and a couple of old cardboard suitcases rammed full of threads and bits of fabric. I have a new studio opening in the new year. It’s part of an old market building in the East end of Glasgow that’s being renovated, so I’ve been waiting a few months to actually get in to it and get comfy. Because my current creative space is a cramped little corner I try to make sure that the music I listen to while I work and the things I pin to the wall behind my desk are all useful to me for whatever project I’m working on. It can be hard to focus while working in a tiny little space but as long as I keep my mind on what I’m doing it’s all good.

I don’t tend to pin images onto my studio wall; more often it’s things like twigs, leaves, sea shells, bits of fabric and quotes. I love quotes.

What inspires the most are trees and the changing seasons. It’s a bit of a cliché but it’s true.

 
Is there anything that you’ve wanted to make but have been hesitant to do so because of a fear or an unknown technique?

No, I tend to be inspired by techniques rather than finding techniques that suit my ideas, so I don’t find that I’m limited by how to do things.

BUT there are more things in my mind that I want to make than things in the real world that I’ve actually made and that drives me mad. Your question has really made me think about why it is that what I actually get round to making is just the tip of the iceberg of what I want to do, so there’s a whole other blog post on the way about it.

I think the short answer is that the only thing that seems to stand in my way is lack of time, but I suspect that I have a habit of filling my time with distractions to avoid starting projects that are too far out of my comfort zone.

Rook drawing in progress
Rook drawing in progress

 

I am interested in your personal goals for your dolls or other art in the new year. Do you set goals for yourself or do you create as the muse visits?

I work with a mixture of both. I think if I just made things as and when it suits me then I’d be in a pretty dangerous position financially, so I try to balance work that feels steady and goal orientated with making time for work that’s more intuitive and experimental. I also find that working on things that are predictable and steady tends to bring up ideas for more creative work precisely because I don’t have the time to work on those ideas while I’m working to meet a deadline. I always have a little green note book in my bag so that if a random idea for a piece comes into my head at an inconvenient time I can write it down and come back to it later.

I have some pretty big goals for the new year and if I’m going to be completely honest I don’t want to share them yet because I kind of feel that I need to keep them under wraps to keep the momentum to follow through on them. I’ll definitely be telling you about them as and when they happen though.

 
What are your thoughts on being able to make space for reverie when life sometimes seems designed to squeeze it out? And do you remember childhood sources of reverie?

Reading your question triggered Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights in my head, and it’s still there while I’m writing this, so the first bit of my answer is music. For me music is a short cut to whatever state I want to be in mentally or creatively. In terms of reverie, my never fail musical direct lines are just about anything by Kate Bush, the soundtrack to Twin Peaks, the soundtrack to Labyrinth, and Avalon by Roxy Music. Heaven or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins is a pretty safe bet too.

My childhood sources of reverie are the same as my adult ones; trees, the sea, moss, lichen, always the natural world. When I was a child I could get immersed in movies in a way that I don’t tend to now. My favourites were Labyrinth, The Never Ending Story and Splash. I could get completely drawn into the other worlds in those movies.

There’s going to have to be a whole blog post dedicated to this question because my mind is wandering way too much to keep it all in this one little answer.

 
What is the story of your first “doll”?

I don’t remember. I’ve been making little dolls and creatures since I was really little so I’m not sure what the first one was like. There are two types that I remember making a lot though. The first type were little wrapped wool dolls. The second type was made from crab apples, leaves and twigs.

The story of the dolls that led me to becoming a doll maker is here .

 
Of all the materials you’ve incorporated into your art, what has been the most unexpectedly enjoyable?

Wood. Definitely wood. It was a material that I’ve always been drawn to but never had the courage to work with. I found a second hand hunting knife in a thrift store in Oslo that cost about £5, took it home and cleaned and sharpened it, then started whittling twigs and branches with it. There’s something amazing about working with a potentially dangerous tool, it really calms and steadies your mind. Wood is such a beautiful material too, it has it’s own life. I love to carve into a piece without knowing exactly where I want to take it, then the wood can make some of the decisions for me.

Carved Juniper wood doll
Carved Juniper wood doll

And there’s the scent of wood too. I didn’t know that freshly carved wood smells like the fruit of that tree. Apple wood smells like apples, Juniper wood (my favourite) smells like juniper berries, Elder wood smells of elder flowers. Lilac wood actually has gorgeous lilac colours in the grain. There’s a whole world in wood that’s only revealed when it’s carved. I love it.

 
Has there ever been anything that you’ve thought about making but you just can’t quite bring yourself to make it yet?

Bit of an odd answer, but the only thing I haven’t quite found a way to get my head around is how to make male dolls realistic without them being comical or obscene. I’ve made a couple of male dolls and I’ve always caved and given them trousers to cover their manly bits. No one seems to find the breasts or crotches on my female dolls obscene but there’s something different about peoples perceptions of male bodies. It’s the only thing that I’ve wanted to do but thought I maybe shouldn’t do.

 

What has been the biggest surprise in this journey?

The fact that it’s happening at all.

Violetta

 

Violetta
Violetta

Violetta took shape from the feet up. I made her at the same time as Constance and Fifi and decided to give her similar long pointed feet.  Instead of stitching her toes, I embroidered red shoes, another one of my fixations, then let her character build up from there.

Violetta
Violetta

I love the story of The Red Shoes and all it’s variations (Violetta’s shoes were originally much brighter but dip dying them in red wine dulled them down to a deep blood red).

Violetta's red shoes
Violetta’s red shoes

The original version of the story is a cautionary tale of the dangers of pride and vanity but I prefer the later (or possibly earlier) interpretations of it where the shoes are a metaphor for the passions, drives and longings that will tear us apart if we don’t find a way to live with them in a balanced way.

I spent almost an entire week stitching and embroidering the red silk shoes in my Stitch gallery, and it became a full on compulsion until they were finally finished.

Silk and stitches
Silk and stitches
Violetta
Violetta

Fauna

The Pale Rook - Faun dollI’ve wanted to make a faun for a while now, and this one has been in progress for about a month.  Sometimes I feel that a doll or puppet takes on a life of it’s own, this one has such an intense, coquettish stare and once I’d taken her out into the garden to photograph her, she looked like she might get up and wander off on her own.   I’d been drawing fauns for a while without much idea of when or how they would find their way into my work.  She started off as a regular doll, but as soon as I added her ears she looked like she needed horns and hooves too.

She’s a bit of a collage of fabrics and fibres, each with it’s own backstory.

Her legs are made from silk and Norwegian alpaca fleece from this farm.  The fleece is from a pure white alpaca and hasn’t been dyed or chemically treated at all.  The farmer, Anne Line, knows every one of her animals by name and considers her flock as members of her family.    I don’t usually use animal fibres in my work, unless they are antique, salvaged or from wonderful farms like this one.

I generally use calico for the bodies of my dolls and puppets but I like the way the silk worked for this one, the dye looks more liquid than on the calico.  The silk came from an Edwardian night dress that I found in a charity shop in Edinburgh about eight years ago.  It was way too long for me so I took the bottom twelve inches off and kept the silk stashed away until I decided to use it for Fauna.  When I tore the fabric the silk threads were so fine and wispy that I used them as the golden hair around her horns.

Finally, her little hooves are made from Victorian metallic fabric.  I have no idea what it would have been used for back in it’s day, but it was left over from a project I worked on in a vintage boutique in London.  I only have a small piece of it, but it’s so heavy and parts of it have tarnished to a beautiful blueish bronze colour.

I have a feeling there will be another faun on the way, perhaps a male next time….

If you’re interested in seeing my work in progress, updates about exhibitions as well as how I make and use my vegetable and herbal dyes you can follow me on Facebook here.

Fauna
Fauna

The Pale Rook - Faun  The Pale Rook - Fauna

The Pale Rook - Faun

Ruby

photo 4

I really wasn’t sure about this doll until she was completely finished.  Every so often I’ll make something that feels too close to a self portrait and it’s always a bit unsettling.  I’ve been making variations on this doll for years now.  She’s been in drawings, paintings, she’s been collaged, crocheted, knitted and sewn, and every time she says something about where and who I am at the time.   This is never intentional.  Maybe that’s why it’s uncomfortable to work on her.  I never intend to make portraits of anyone but once in a while portraits happen.

photo 3

In this incarnation, she’s been made with coffee, boiled acorns and indigo dyed calico, linen threads, black silk, and her hair is made of felted Icelandic wool.

The Pale Rook - Dolls, art and oddities

photo 3

Rosehip

 

Rosehip

I’d gathered a basket of rose hips last autumn to make syrup, left them in the fridge and forgot about them.  After a while I decided to make them into dye instead.  Like the nettles,  you just boil up the rose hips for an hour or so, leave them to steep and then use the dye directly on the fabric.  The colour is a warm, soft peachy pink, I love how it looks with the nettle dye on this doll.

The Pale Rook                                   The Pale Rook - Rosehip art doll                                  The Pale Rook - Art doll

Brennesle

IMG_2197

This was my first nettle dyed doll.  The green wasn’t supposed to be so intense but it turned out to be a bit of a happy accident.  I prefer working with plant dyes, firstly because there isn’t the same toxic stench, or need for rubber gloves that you have with synthetic dye, and the colour is so much softer and it seems to reflect light differently.  These nettles were picked from my garden, dried then left to steep in boiling water for a few hours before dipping the doll into the dye bath.

 

Nettle calico sketchbook

Cloth doll partsNettle dyed cloth doll

 

 

 

 

Blue Rabbit

 

Blue rabbit
Blue rabbit

I finished this girl last night.  I’ve been carrying her around with me for a few days and now I think she’s finally done.  I’m designing my dolls as I make them, rather than drawing or planning them out first.  The dyes and the threads and the unexpected shapes made by the grain and the folds of the fabric make most of the design decisions for me.  I’m not sure where her rabbit ears came from, they just seemed to make sense.   She’s been dyed with indigo and acorns then sewn up with linen.  Her ears are made from a tiny scrap of 1940s fabric that I found in an antique suitcase in Ayr in the south west of Scotland.  She doesn’t have a name yet, but I’m sure she’ll tell me at some point.

Blue Bunny's feet